In the novel, The Circle, the author addresses many moral and societal issues that arise with the advancement of communication technology. One of the questions presented in the text is how much transparency is too much transparency? Another point for discussion that is brought up is the difference between the world of digital and physical interaction and how that gap may soon become unimportant. Also some of the technologies that are talked about or implied but not yet implemented were very debatable topics, including child tracking and at the end of the book, tapping into the unconscious mind.
The text brings up the idea of someone having one account with which they access everything and everything is linked to them in that way. This is a very large change to the system that we currently use and I don’t believe that it would ever catch on outside the novel. A system like this certainly has some benefits to it such as only having to login once, only having to remember one password, and making online theft much more difficult. While these are some very useful advantages to only having one personal account to everything I find that it restricts a lot of the freedom that people find today on the internet. People now often have at a minimum two emails. This occurs for whatever reason, whether it is for work, because someone wants a subscription spam email, or because they use a second email for particular things such as video game news. People often use second emails to send things they know they don’t want to that email or to send things that they definitely want to that email, in both cases sorting these very polar things out from their primary email, which is likely concerned with work, billing, etc.
Another reason that people may not conform to this single account system is because a lot of people will look up stupid or inappropriate things often on the internet. This is not a problem if they are not logged into an account or are incognito. Without the ability to log out or to go incognito that means that every single thing you do on the internet will be linked to your one account, that is linked to everything important in your life. With that being said this means that anyone can decide to hack in (or search if they have authority) and see everything that you have done on that account.
This leads into the argument on exactly how much transparently is too much, not enough, or just right. The problem with this question however is that is not one correct answer, at least not one answer that has been approved en-masse. In the book it is apparent that they have gone too far, at least from my point of view, since it seems that they have violated many peoples rights to privacy. While many of the technologies introduced by the Circle look helpful, it is uncle because “Uncle Eamon” sugarcoats them, hiding any possible drawbacks or design failures. For example when Mae starts working at the Circle and she if fed a smoothie with the health monitor in it, while that’s great that her health is being watched over by professional it isn’t right to just slip someone a monitor that they would be unaware of if not told about it. This is wrong because it means that the information being gathered by this device could be getting used or even sold without the knowledge of the user.
Another technology that is expressed in multiple ways in the reading is GPS tracking technology of specific individuals for 24/7 access to their whereabouts. The example that most will remember is when Mae’s co-worker Francis introduces the Child Track program. This system could drastically reduce the amount of child abductions and missing children reports, however Francis own bias to complete the project blinds him from seeing the possible drawbacks to his own creation. The idea is to have these tracking devices implanted into a child’s bones, which means that that implant is very difficult to remove from the body later in life. It also means that those who do not get this technology removed can be tracked via their chip at any time in their life. Another example that is more of a short comment made by one of the Circle employees giving her her work supplies, where she gives Mae her tablet and shows her that all tablets are tracked by gps, and shows her where Annie is at that moment. This is a less impactful section of the text however it is the same idea as the child trackers, with the exception being that this technology is already being largely implemented in apps made for device recovery and for geography based apps, like Pokemon Go.
At the end of the book Mae’s friend Annie has gone into a coma, seemingly from a massive amount of stress that has been placed upon her. Mae finds the fact that she cannot know what Annie is thinking while comatose very frustrating and at the end of the book her thoughts end on a very disturbing note. As she is thinking about Annie and what might be happening in Annie’s comatose mind, Mae gets the idea that everyone should be able to know what she is thinking, “the world deserves nothing less and would not wait”. This level of selfishness, and intrusion into the private thoughts and feelings of another is very wrong. It also heavily implies that Mae’s next project, or at least a project that she will ask others to work on will be some sort of mind reading device, that can read the thoughts of people like Annie, who are physically unable to share their feelings.
These thoughts that are controlling Mae’s mentality, the idea that she needs to know everything that everyone around her is thinking, are ideas that were implanted into her way of thinking by the Circle. Once she was introduced to the Circles social system, with her Zing account connecting to the inner and outer circle, she is not so slowly drawn into the social site. She begins to spend more and more time on the site, and eventually drawing her sense of self value and importance from her account followers and likes (and dislikes).
In the end this novel is an enlightening and frightening look into a possible future and the possible technologies that will accompany it. This book draws some obvious inspirations from large controlling entities, such as Google from a technological standpoint and Christian religion with its reference to the three wise men, the imagery of the circle as a halo, and the idea of playing god being represented through the SeeChange cameras. I felt that this was an extremely valuable read and relates quite well to the course.
Website addressing privacy issues with modern technology: